St Marys’ church and churchyard are truly off the beaten track being located off a former farmyard accessed by a rough road called Church Lane. Having parked in the farmyard the visitor takes the sloping path up to the kissing gate and on entering the churchyard is met by a dramatic view of the Downs to the south.
A Brief History
The site was selected by Saxons ( St Wilfrid’s Community from Selsea) in 700 AD and the wooden church they built here was later recorded in the Domesday Book. The church was dedicated to St. Mary the Mother of Jesus, so the correct title of the present building is the church of St Mary the Virgin.
When the Normans came along they had different ideas about building, and the wooden church disappeared to be replaced by a more solid structure. The tower seen today was built between 1180 and 1185. Its walls were constructed with flint and chalk rag 3 ½ feet thick. Soon the massive walls proved too heavy for the chalk foundations and the tower started to lean to the south-west. A plan for a tall tower was abandoned and a temporary roof put on at first floor level and the rest of the church was built. However, by 1250 there had been no further movement in the tower and an 8 foot high second storey (now used as the bell chamber) was added with walls only 2 feet thick. The stability of the tower continued to cause concern and in 1620 it was considered necessary to prop up the west wall of the tower with the brick buttresses seen today.
In 1878 substantial alterations took place. A raised chancel was built and a vestry was added with entry through the north wall of the chancel. The south porch was added. The chancel ceiling was removed to reveal the beams and the stained deal vaulting was put up in the chancel to match that in the nave.
Pews were introduced throughout the church. Two notices in the church (one in the tower and one in the porch) record a legacy of £50 which was spent on pews and a gift of £10 in 1878 by the Incorporated Society for the Building of Churches “towards reseating and restoring this church/all the seats are for the free use of the parishioners according to law.” (Picture courtesy of Dawn Cansfield)
You can find out more about the building here.
The war memorial at the church used to stand in the grounds of the school but was moved to its present site in 1952.
How to find us
From the A286 Chichester to Midhurst road: look for Bell lane which is the turning on the corner immediately by the Bluebell pub. Follow Bell Lane for approximately 1.5 miles and look out for the sign to the church – you will need to take a sharp right turn on a bend in the road and care is needed. You may park in the farmyard and walk to the church, following the signs.